Some have called Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” By Sapphire (I find this long title hugely annoying so I will just call the film Precious) the “dark” version of The Blind Side (a triumphant story about how a poor black kid overcomes impossible odds to become “somebody”). Precious similarly tackles the demoralising aspect of African American life, but in a more confronting, uncompromising way — drenched in poverty, illiteracy, obesity, disease, domestic violence and sexual abuse — though unlike The Blind Side, there’s no rich white family to turn it into a fairytale.
It tells the story of Precious Jones, an illiterate, obese, African American girl living in a dysfunctional household with her mother in Harlem. At just 16 years of age, Precious is pregnant with her second child. You can imagine what her life is like. It’s incredibly bleak. There’s not much hope for someone like her in this world, or so it would appear.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Precious. On the one hand, you feel an incredible amount of pity for Precious. She didn’t ask to be born into this life. Her mother is an abomination. It’s a damnation of American life and culture, in particular African American life and culture.
On the other hand, I didn’t get much out of it. It’s not enjoyable, and for the most part, is an extremely depressing experience. I was engaged by the story, but there wasn’t much to get excited about for the 110-minute running time.
I will say, though, that the performances were outstanding. Now that I’ve seen it, I agree whole-heartedly that Mo’Nique deserved the Oscar as Precious’ mother. She’s a hard, terrifying woman, who is so disillusioned with her own life that she does nothing to prevent her daughter from heading down the same hopeless path, or worse.
Gabourey Sidibe, in her debut role, is also very good as the titular character, but I don’t think she is as remarkable as she’s been hyped up to be.
The two music superstars deserve special mention. Mariah “Glitter” Carey is actually pretty adequate as a frumpy, plain, welfare social worker, and Lenny Kravitz is almost unrecognisable as a friendly male nurse.
Lastly, I wonder whether the fact that Precious is NOT a true story had any impact on my impression of it. One of the reasons why The Blind Side got away with a lot of the corny melodrama is because we know it’s ultimately based on true events. I’m not sure whether it affected me or not, but knowing that Precious Jones is not a real person may have subconsciously brought out the cynic in me. After all, author Sapphire appears to have crammed all the worst possible attributes and circumstances imaginable into a single character, and in doing so, puts the film and character at risk of being perceived as manipulation.
Look, it’s a good film, but I’m just sayin’.
3.5 stars out of 5